Discipleship isn’t sanctity, it’s a journey, author says

Book reveals sobering statistics about American Catholics, offers hope for change

This Q-and-A continues a Denver Catholic Register summer reading series on Catholic-themed books with a Colorado connection.

Colorado Springs author Sherry Weddell’s bestselling book “Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus,” was recently given to all priests of the Denver Archdiocese by Archbishop Samuel Aquila. Weddell, a co-founder of the Catherine of Siena Institute to develop lay apostles, also made a presentation on the work to the clerics. She spoke to the Denver Catholic Register earlier this month. Her comments have been edited for space and clarity.Author Sherry A. Weddell

Q: Who is the book “Forming Intentional Disciples” for?

A: It was written for Catholic leaders at all levels: so everyone from the bishop to a parish catechist and everyone in between. We wrote it for the nearly 3 million U.S. Catholics (of 78 million) who are deeply involved in their parishes outside of just attending Mass. I wrote it for that core of the core who determine everything that happens at the parish and diocesan level.

Q: What is the purpose of the book?

A: To share what we learned in eight years (of evangelization seminars) with 1,600 diocesan and parish leaders. They didn’t know there was a kerygma or a great story of Jesus to be told. They’d never told it and never heard it. We learned what people didn’t know and learned how to communicate the material so people could absorb it.

Q: What is the kerygma?

A: The kerygma (preaching) is the great story, the basic Gospel story of God becoming a human being in Jesus Christ. His teachings, miracles, suffering, death, resurrection and ascension. That whole drama. It is a Greek term from the early Church. It is distinguished from catechesis. All of our catechesis, our theology, our spiritual tradition flows out of that most basic revelation of God in Jesus Christ. Most Catholics never hear it as a story and never have time to process it and figure out what it means.

Q: Why have so many Catholics not heard it?

A: Because we don’t tell it as a story. We break it up into thousands of pieces and scatter it throughout catechesis. We have all the riches of Church tradition and the Church has meditated on it and written all this beautiful theological stuff about it, but the ordinary person in the pews doesn’t have that foundational story. We presumed people understood it and had said yes. But the evidence is that at a lived level that wasn’t happening for most people.

Q: Why are only 30 percent of Americans who were raised Catholic still practicing the faith?

A: I think it’s directly related to the fact that a huge number of them don’t even realize you can have a personal relationship with God. And the younger you are, the more likely that’s true. People don’t do things out of guilt or duty. They do things because it’s personally meaningful.

Q: Among the sobering statistics in your book: 10 percent of all adults in America are ex-Catholics, and the number of marriages in the Church decreased by nearly 60 percent between 1972 and 2010. Why do so many Catholics disregard Church teaching?

A: There has been a tremendous change in the culture from modernity to post-modernity. Post-modernity culture doesn’t believe in universal norms. People are comfortable with ambiguity and they trust their own experience. So much of what the Church was teaching presumed Christendom, a larger culture that supported and reinforced those values. Now the culture has dramatically changed and actually counters Church teaching. We are back to basic evangelism. If we just try to lay down moral rules, people don’t connect with that. But if we first lead them to Christ and help them to encounter him within the context of the Church then—through the graces they have received and the Holy Spirit—they will start to change from within. Then you can propose what the Church teaches in relationship to what it means to follow Jesus.

Q: How does one effectively evangelize?

A: The four basic steps are:

  1. Break the silence about the possibility of a personal relationship with God.
  2. Offer multiple opportunities for people to encounter Christ in the midst of his Church.
  3. Expect conversion and plan for conversion.
  4. Lay a foundation of intercessory prayer.


Q: What is an intentional disciple?

A: Someone who is deliberately attempting to follow Jesus in the midst of his Church. It’s not the same as being a saint. You could still be a terrible mess but you have begun the journey. We use the image of Peter and Andrew on the Sea of Galilee. They dropped their nets and followed Christ. Was Peter a saint when he left his net? No, he was a mess. But was he a disciple? Yes, he was. Discipleship isn’t sanctity, it’s like kindergarten—you’ve begun the journey.


Title: “Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus”

Author: Sherry A. Weddell

Publisher: Our Sunday Visitor (2012)

Cost: $15.95






COMING UP: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

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Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.

Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash